You Will Hate Me - I Kept An Sps Alive From Week 3*


I am a person that when I read about things you can't do, I try to do them. When I got my first freshwater tank I was told you can't put 10 fish in immediately and I did it (the first death was 6 mos later when one jumped out and got taken by my cat).

I got a Red Sea E - 260 (69G) a few months ago and read that you can't put SPS coral in until a year. Oh yeah? So at week 3 I put in two SPS corals and was curious to see if I could prove them wrong. TL; DR; version: yeah, you can do it but it's probably not worth it.

First off, I read a lot of books on corals. I read expensive ones, including "Dynamic Aquaria" (highly, highly recommended but it cost $100) before buying my tank. I was already into freshwater tanks and moved around a lot. I knew that I wanted a reef tank as soon as I settled down. I once kept 4 freshwater fish alive for 6 months in a bucket in a closet with airstones and water changes. They are still with me in their new digs.

1) Deep sand bed is a must - an active DSB will release all sorts of planktonic life forms on a regular basis. I put an asterix by the title because I had the DSB in the bags (with air slits) in a bin for a week under LED lighting to bring it to life so to speak.

2) Macro algae - I went to my LFS and bought about 20% of their macro algae and insisted on large bags so I could take as much of it and the water as possible. This cost about $50.

3) Live rock - I had more than the recommended amount

4) Water changes - I did about 15% water changes every 3 days. I kept about half the changed out water in another 20G tank with lights under it and it acted as algae turf scrubber (mesh screen on bottom as Dynamic Aquaria recommends) going to recycle the water. Half the water changes included recycled water after about week 3. This was to maintain the plankton. I did not use pumps on the recycled water because impeller pumps kill about 90% of the plankton according to Dynamic Aquaria.

5) For good measure, I also dumped about 20 creatures (13 fish, 7 shrimp) in over the first 8 weeks. The only fish deaths I had were due to a yellow shrimp goby that was very upset when anyone got near the burrow. He killed two fish - one that I witnessed and another that looked very similar. I went to bed watching the second one and kept tapping the glass because he didn't seem to get that hanging out by the burrow was a bad idea. I eventually bought some more live rock to build the yellow watchman goby a little fenced off area.

6) I tested the water daily and constantly had a water change ready and pre mixed, with a heater in it to keep it the same temperature as the tank. I used no chemicals to neutralize ammonia. I used tap water that sat out for a few days and had tap water conditioner.

7) It may be coincidence but when I started feeding with a turkey baster the corals really perked up. I say its probably a coincidence because the coral perked up the same time the two sponges that were hitchhikers turned around. About 50% of the two sponges died (I removed the dead parts because of worries about toxins) but they made a full recovery starting at this time.

The Red Sea system is pretty top of the line - the whole set up ( live rock, live sand, tank, inhabitants) cost probably $3200. I put two SPS corals in at week 3 and a host of other soft and hard corals. Keep in mind, I put in several hours of maintenance in per week and I did not intend on any coral deaths.

The algae exploded at about week 4-6 and for a few weeks the tanks was a forest of algae swaying in the current. At about week 7 I assumed all the coral would die because of my arrogance but the reality was I could hardly keep up with algae export. Algae growth was intentional and I set my lights to 14 hours per day to encourage as much algae production as possible to deal with the ammonia build up and nutrient export.

At about 8 weeks the algae stopped and anything I removed stopped growing as much before the clean up crew got to it.

At 3 mos...

Zoas - none dead. I lost sight of them all due to the algae explosion. I assumed at week 7 that my arrogance would be punished but all the zoas survived and I can say that there has been growth.

LPS - Hammer coral is thriving and has grown about 10%. Trumpet coral is exactly as it was at purchase. One LPS coral died suddenly at week 10.

SPS - I had two but I am kicking myself because I think both would have made it. There was a birds nest and an acro. At week 10 both looked out of it (bleached for the most part and growing algae all over it). I took the birds nest out and put it in my 20G tank to be live rock. I looked at the acro and thought "I will take that out tomorrow." I didn't.

Well, at week 12 I went to take it out and looked at it closely. There was a small section (about 10%) of the total area that had tiny neon green polyps open! At week 13 I noticed the area was about 20%.

Was it worth it? Money and time wise, no. From what I know now though, the 1 year thing is too cautious. I'm not even at 6 mos so why wait a year for SPS? If you have a good set up and know what you are doing, I have no reason to believe you can't get SPS to thrive at 3 mos.

It may die tomorrow but I doubt it. This acro is thriving and the number of polyps open seem to double every week or two as it reclaims its bleached areas. My clown goby now hangs out in it. The real test of worth will be - will I have more of it in a year than I would if I waited a year? As in, will it reclaI'm and grow even more? We will see...

Tyler Fishman

Hmm sounds terrific! I myself am challenging myself with starting a one gallon pico reef with soft corals. I'm in the midst of cycling it.
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Tyler Fishman said:
Hmm sounds terrific! I myself am challenging myself with starting a one gallon pico reef with soft corals. I'm in the midst of cycling it.
Soft corals are very hardy. They evolved in the side of the reef opposite of the ocean (SPS evolved on the side facing the ocean) and frequently had to deal with changing parameters. In the shallows, they can be cut off from the ocean and evaporation would raise the local salinity and heat. They can be temporarily exposed to the air.

My point is, you won't need luck if you understand that.

Tyler Fishman

Yes I've done my fair share of research, I would particularity like Discosoma mushrooms and maybe zoanthids
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HI - I run a bare bottom tank and would not go back to running a tank full of SPS with sand. Sand beds can be nutrient sinks which caused me headaches in the past, hence only running bare bottom from here on out. There are so many variables at play that you need to control to grow SPS and eliminating the sand makes it a little easier to control parameters in my opinion.

The reason they say "one year", which is usually for SPS corals, is so that the tank goes through all the typical cycles - nitrogen and algae cycles - and the tank becomes stable. I think it is kind of a silly guideline and instead use the coralline algae growth as an indicator of when a tank is ready for SPS corals. Once you start getting lots of coralline algae and the parameters look stable (nitrates, phosphates especially) you can start adding SPS corals. Softies can be added sooner since they are not nearly as demanding as SPS corals. It's been my experience that if you have algae growth in the tank you are gonna have a rough go with SPS. You might be able to "keep" them but will experience very slow growth rates. Just my 2 cents.

Tyler Fishman

Yikes I went to the Petstore and found palythoas and mushroom corals for 80 bucks..yikes


I bought a complete mixed reef setup from someone a couple months ago. It had 3 skinny birdsnests. One was rather large in my opinion. I could not get those guys to be happy for anything and ended up selling them so I didn't just kill them. I do have one small stick that had broken off of one that is glued to a rock and it still doesn't look happy. My pocillopora, stylo and possible thick birdsnest are all thriving and shooting off new branches. My montis were doing well until I found that stinking MEN were eating them! My Hollywood stunner (and all of the frags from the move since its paper thin) are doing well. The large pieces are still recovering from move damage but is showing tissue regrowth and the frags have all started growing. I know these aren't sps but I've heard they are pretty hard to grow, but my Yuma rocks are thriving! They are huge and new babies are growing everywhere!

Other than my own errors, everything has been doing well. It took me forever to get everything IN the tank after the move. It all lived in temporary housing for a few weeks. So I'm sure that threw everything off too, not to mention the "matureness" of the tank. I also didn't put the sand back in after the move. I really like the ease of a bare bottom tank! Except for placing a few specific frags (because of how they've grown or whatever) it has been a breeze!

I have definitely made mistakes because I didn't listen to recommendations or followed bad advice, but I think I'm doing well. I just bought a bunch of new corals. I think LPS are my favorites.


Mike Couldn't agree with you more on a bare bottom tank. Much easier to upkeep and keep it nutrient free for the most part.


I bought my first SPS 2 months in to my tank. I don't have a DSB, barely have any macro algae (the little bit I did have was eaten by my emerald crab in the sump), and don't do many water changes. perhaps I've gotten very lucky lol

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